Hurry Up and Wait


I was prepared for the trip to Cherskiy to be full of long waits and frantic rush. That was how it had been last year, and I was prepared to repeat the experience. But it turned out I was not ready for the long waits to continue once I arrived. I was wound tight with excitement to get to work–as a returning student, I had a plan.

For my project, I want to know how exposure to sunlight influences the breakdown of organic matter carried downstream in river water, especially how photooxidation (i.e. breakdown by light) impacts the ability of microbes to use it. I also wanted to compare how this would work differently on modern vs. ancient permafrost carbon, which meant I needed to get to Duvannyi Yar, a fairly remote field site, as soon as possible. I was excited to get down to work and start my experiment.

Megan Behnke with a bottle of filtered water from thawing permafrost.

Megan Behnke with a bottle of filtered water from thawing permafrost.

We arrived on Tuesday evening. And I learned I couldn’t get a boat to my sampling site until Sunday at the earliest.

So I had to wait four whole days.

I had to mentally shift, and use the time to prepare. When I was not going out into the field with other students, I gathered supplies, cleaned bottles and filters, labeled, calculated, and set up Excel spreadsheets. All of which needed doing, but I still felt frustrated. I wanted to get going!

The 48 hours of work that began Sunday morning were so intense that I was grateful in retrospect for the previous calm days of preparation. After breakfast on Sunday morning, I loaded my gear (two coolers, a backpack full of filters, an electric pump, a 40 amp battery, and an instrument to collect information about water) into our small boat. We didn’t return until the middle of the next night, after a lot of water filtering, a picnic on a gravel bar in the middle of the Kolyma, and a long cold return back down the river through fog and waves.

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Picnic on a gravel bar in the middle of the Kolyma River.

After some sleep, I spent the next thirteen and a half hours filter-sterilizing the water and setting up my experiment. When I placed my bottles on the roof of Orbita at 11:20pm Monday night, I was absolutely exhausted. Even though I had tried to prepare myself for the pattern of hurry up and wait, the frustration of waiting to be able to start and the sheer quantity of work surprised me. Patience is something I will need to continue developing as I move forward in my research. For the moment, I can happily rest in the knowledge that my 48 bottles are sitting on the roof in the sunlight while I prepare for the next stage of the project.

Bottles on the roof of the Orbita Laboratory.

Bottles on the roof of the Orbita Laboratory.